The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man from the interpolated short story "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client" in Chapter 21 of Dickens's Pickwick Papers (November 1836), facing page 182. 9.5 cm high by 10 cm wide — 3 ⅝ by 4 inches for the novel's sixth interpolated tale. Engraving by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne) for Part VIII. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage illustrated: The Confrontation of Antagonists in the Interpolated Tale

The object of his search and his unrelenting animosity, now a decrepit old man, was seated at a bare deal table, on which stood a miserable candle. He started on the entrance of the stranger, and rose feebly to his feet.

"What now, what now?" said the old man. "What fresh misery is this? What do you want here?"

"A word with you," replied Heyling. As he spoke, he seated himself at the other end of the table, and, throwing off his cloak and cap, disclosed his features.

The old man seemed instantly deprived of speech. He fell backward in his chair, and, clasping his hands together, gazed on the apparition with a mingled look of abhorrence and fear. [Chapter 21, from the inset narrative "The Tale about the Queer Client," pp. 182-83]

Commentary: Realizing the Climax of the Interpolated Tale

When Phiz came to work on the illustration for this interpolated tale, he confronted the same problem that Seymour had had to deal with: the social realism of The Dying Clown (April 1836). Once again, the bitter narrative sharply contrasts the humorous tone of the episodic "papers" of the genial and sometimes bumbling Pickwick Club. Since Dickens's suspenseful, melodramatic tale underscores the psychological consequences of harbouring a rabid desire for revenge, Phiz has had to shift from a comic idiom to a dramatic mode. Working in the manner of a staged melodrama, Phiz externalizes the story's psychological conflict. Placed conspicuously at the head of the eighth serial part, in November 1836, the engraving would have signalled to the reader that the piece's protagonist, George Heyling, a Marshalsea debtor, will indeed be able to confront and denounce his antagonist, "the old man," an unscrupulous attorney who also happens to be Heyling's vindictive father-in-law.

In the November 1836 engraving The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man Phiz realises the climactic scene in which Heyling, having secured his enemy's economic demise by acquiring all his promissory notes, confronts his elderly father-in-law in his garret in Little College Street, Camden Town, the area of London in which young Dickens and his family lived after the eleven-year-old boy had come up from school at Chatham. As Heyling throws off his travelling cloak and cap to disclose his own features, the old man (last seen on the seashore) is stunned into silence by the commanding figure of the cloaked avenger.

Throughout his writings in 1836, as Deborah A. Thomas notes, Dickens "seems to have been fascinated with the idea of using short stories to examine the mentally abnormal" (21). In an episodic novel filled with rollicking farce and humorous characters Dickens uses the oral tales of incidental characters to introduce the kind of material commonly found in Gothic novels: murder, mayhem, sadistic violence, wicked fathers, and implacable avengers. However, such realistic backdrops as the Marshalsea Prison here (all too familiar to Dickens from the days of his own father's incarceration there) point to such contemporary and realistic materials as police procedurals, the Newgate novel, and sensational stories crime-and-detection. The stark illustration suggests Dickens's chief inspiration for the tale of depravity and vengeance: the contemporary melodrama.

Jane Rabb Cohen in Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators notes that the 1838 revision of the 1836 engraving defines the interior more sharply and renders the figures more effective by intensifying their expressions: "he first strengthens the lines defining the ceiling beams, window, window panes, and door in the interior in which the visit takes place. The originally effete expressions of both men become intensely dramatic as terror is added to the older face, a fierce scowl to the younger, more enlarged one" (p. 66).

The single candle with its halo divides the space occupied by the terrified old man as he cringes, leaning far to the left in his arm-chair, and the implacable Heyling, whose left arm remains dramatically in mid-air as he has just revealed himself. The old man is much diminished from the previous scene, as if Heyling's relentless pursuit of him over several years has taken its toll, whereas Heyling, dressed entirely in black, seems to have grown in stature. Phiz has positioned the figures so that Heyling, immediately in front of the stout wooden door of the garret, effectively blocks the old man's escape. The menacing shadows loom over Heyling, connoting dark intentions, whereas the object of his vengeance casts no shadow, so insubstantial has he become.

Heyling's revenge upon his callous father-in-law now comes to fruition in this scene as the former debtor, now a very rich widower, reveals not merely his identity but his intention. Having acquired title to all his promissory notes, Heyling has broken the old man and will now consign him to debtors' prison. The terrified sufferer in Phiz's illustration will momentarily cheat nemesis by dying of stroke or heart attack, his physical decline suggested by the guttering candle on the bare table. Clutching his hands together in entreaty, the object of Heyling’s vindictiveness is transfixed by his persecutor’s stern gaze. The avenger seems to be seating himself, having just thrown back his cloak. He blocks the old man's access to the stout door, sealing the trap he has so carefully laid over the past six years since his brother-in-law’s death. A full moon, suggestive of his plot's coming to fruition, shines through the patched and broken leaded panes of the window, and the bare floorboards and walls devoid of any decoration reinforce the old man's poverty in "the meanest-looking house" (182) in Little College Street. Since, as Valerie Browne Lester notes, Dickens as a"micro-manager" (50) carefully supervised and approved each of Phiz's illustrations for this work, the reader should regard The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man as thoroughly representing Dickens's intentions in this interpolated tale.

Revising his thoughts about this tale of vengeance, and freed from Dickens's supervisory gaze at last, in the 1874 Household Edition illustration of this story, Phiz chose an entirely different moment for realisation, the scene in which the old man begs Heyling to save his son from drowning: "Heyling!" said the old man wildly. "My boy, Heyling, my dear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable father pointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life. This more natural realisation is equally theatrical, suggesting a stage set in the flat backdrop of waves, but is less dramatic, and is therefore less effective in presenting Heyling as the implacable avenger.

Related Household Edition Illustrations (1873, 1874)

Above: Phiz's 1874 interpretation of the melodramatic tale: "Heyling!" said the old man wildly. "My boy, Heyling, my dear boy, look, look!" Gasping for breath, the miserable father pointed to the spot where the young man was struggling for life. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Related Materials: Dickens's Short Fiction, 1833-68


Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

Dickens, Charles. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Robert Seymour, Robert W. Buss, and Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). London: Chapman & Hall: 1836-37.

Dickens, Charles. Pickwick Papers. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1874 (illustrated by Phiz); New York: Harper & Bros., 1873 (illustrated by Thomas Nast).

Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. Illustrated by Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. London: Chapman & Hall, 1896.

Lester Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Patten, Robert L. "The Art of Pickwick's Interpolated Tales." English Literary History 34 (1967): 349-66.

Steig, Michael. Chapter 2. "The Beginnings of 'Phiz': Pickwick, Nickleby, and the Emergence from Caricature." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 24-50.

Thomas, Deborah A.. Dickens and the Short Story. Philadelphia: Philadelphia U. P., 1982.

Last modified 2 November 2019